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Connecticut's Asian American Leaders Call For Education, Accountability In The Wake Of Mass Shooting

Candice Choi
Associated Press

In the wake of the March 16 mass shootings in Georgia, communities across the country, and here in Connecticut, have been mourning the loss of eight people -- six of whom were women of Asian descent. 

The shootings have sparked a national outcry against anti-Asian violence and further exacerbated longtime fear felt by Asian American communities. 

“In the beginning, I was just angry and afraid. I am a small, petite Asian American woman, so I was afraid,” said Na-Rae Kim, assistant professor in residence and associate director at the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute at UConn. “But now I wonder what I would teach my 1-year-old daughter, who will later face this issue. Do I tell her to own her anger, or do I want to tell her to escape because we just want to stay alive?”

Kim was a guest on a recent episode of  Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live

She knows that her feelings of anger and fear aren’t unique. They’ve been felt by many in the community, especially over the last year, and the shooting is just the latest in a string of hate incidents. 

“It’s heartbreaking to see that it took this murder of six Asian American women for the nation to notice the violence that has been going on this last year,” Kim said. 

Stop AAPI Hate, a national nonprofit organization that tracks hate incidents and discrimination, reported nearly 4,000 occurrences between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. Verbal harassment (68.1%), shunning (20.5%) and physical assault (11.1%) accounted for the bulk of those incidents.

Glen Mitoma, assistant professor of human rights and education and director of Dodd Impact at UConn’s Human Rights Institute, said the community is facing a “Russian nesting doll crisis.” 

“The shooting is compounded by the fact that the health concern of the COVID virus came with this social stigma fed by divisive political rhetoric,” he said. “This made Asian Americans and others of Asian descent legitimate targets of harassment. It has created a lot of psychological pressure.” 

He said Asian business owners, for example, are not only battling the financial burden brought on by the pandemic, but also fears of being targeted after the shooting. 

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who’s Chinese American, agreed and pointed the finger at the former Trump administration for promoting hateful rhetoric. 

“This is what happens when you give license to hate and you call people a virus and you call coronavirus the ‘China virus’ or the ‘kung-flu.’ You give them voice and license to act,” he said. 

But politics isn’t the only area of blame, he says. Asians are often left out of conversations regarding race and eradicating racism in America. 

“I’ve actually been asked -- do you even count as a person of color? I was asked that on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate,” Tong said. “It’s not only objectionable, it’s absurd.” 

This points to a larger issue of Asians going unseen in America, Kim said. 

“They are perpetually seen as foreigners,” she said. “They are currently seen as the model minority. So when the people are invisible, the violence that they face is also rendered invisible.” 

For the invisibility and violence to end, all three agree education is the remedy. 

“We have to fundamentally rethink how we teach the history of this country and who is included in this so-called ‘we the people,’” Mitoma said. 

In Connecticut, a bill before lawmakers would make Asian American and Pacific Islander history part of the social studies curriculum in public schools. 

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